Women in Society

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Indian women are idealized to play a passive role. Is it desirable?

This is circumstantial. If you look at ancient history, women in India were always the other half of the male component. In the vedic and upanishadic times, women held the same post, position and respect as men had. They were the gurus, leaders and inspirers of society.

Over a period of time the situation changed. When India was invaded the men took the women away from the limelight and confined them to the home in order to protect womankind. However, they did not make any effort to liberate themselves from the invading forces, and the invaders ruled India for hundreds of years. During this period, for reasons of safety and security, women were not allowed to come out. Today this is a social bent of mind, as for generations Indian women have been living in the same manner and environment, in the confined enclosure of the home.

Something similar happened globally, not only in India. Patriarchal society became powerful and matriarchal society weak. Men took away all the power and womankind was given the duty to look after men by looking after the home, the family and raising children. Over hundreds of years over many generations this has become the trait of Indians.

It was a similar situation in the West too. A change took place during the First World War when the able-bodied young men went to the frontlines and were killed in thousands and millions. The women had to look after society back home. They became nurses and took on professions and jobs. The western 'women's liberation' started at that point.

After a few years with the start of the Second World War, again the men went to the front and the nations were managed by women. They took an active role in nation making and proved that they were better than their male counterparts. The nature of men is hard and tough and the nature of women is soft and emotional. When the mind is hardened and toughened, there are many things that simply skip over the surface of the mind and one is not aware of the small things. However, when one is sensitive, one picks up all the little things, observes them, analyzes them and tries to rectify them. In this manner, as far as work and identification of little details is concerned, womankind is better. For hard labour men are better.

In India the environment is gradually changing. Through education children are being exposed to many conditions, situations and opportunities which they did not have before. One generation ago, girls and women were restricted to staying at home; today they are all moving forward in society. In Indian society now, women cannot be limited to the home. They take their own decisions and say, "Look, whether you like it or not I am going to go there." Today they can take their own decisions.

It cannot be said that Indian women are idealized to play a passive role. It is a misconception and misunderstanding. It is not a social, cultural or religious concept. It is a personal concept.

If a woman does not want to marry but lead an independent spiritual life, what decision should be taken if there is social pressure?

It should be understood that marriage is not a requirement for everybody. There are many people who do not need marriage and there are people who need marriage. This decision has to be made by each individual. The individual is pressurized by family and society due to the stereotyped culture they live in. Parents may say, "Everybody gets married, so you also have to do it, otherwise we will become the object of social ridicule." When people fear ridicule they impose restrictions on their own family members and pressurize their children so that they are not ridiculed at the fag end of their life.

This is based on a lack of understanding: there are people who need male–female companionship and there are people who do not need it. It is a choice that everybody can make. If one has made the choice, 'I will marry', there is nobody in the world who can stop one from marrying. If one has made the choice, 'I will not marry', nobody can force one to get married.

A person becomes weak and allows situations to dominate and govern life, out of fear for oneself and one's family. There is insecurity for oneself and one's family.

The truth is that marriage is not compulsory for anyone. If there is a physical, emotional or intellectual need then one should get married. If there is no physical or emotional need, why should one get entangled in marriage? One should live life independently and freely.

—20 September 2014, Tyagaraj Sports Stadium, Delhi, India